Sunday, October 2, 2022

Grand National 2022: Amateur Sam Waley-Cohen wins with 50-1 Noble Yeats on his final ride | Grand National 2022

As the final, defining flourish of a sporting career, it is hard to think of anything that might rival Sam Waley-Cohen’s 50-1 success aboard Noble Yeats in the Grand National here on Saturday.

On Thursday evening, Waley-Cohen revealed that the breed would be his last after 20 years as Britain’s leading amateur jockey. It would be his final chance too to realize his father’s lifelong dream of seeing his colors carried to victory in the world’s most famous steeplechase. Two days later, after a race laden with drama from start to finish, the dream came true, albeit at a cost. While it is ultimately irrelevant given his retirement, the stewards banned him for nine days and ended him £400 for using his whip above the permitted level and in the incorrect place in the finish.

Waley-Cohen spends most of his time running one of Britain’s biggest dentistry firms, with about 4,000 employees in five countries. Race-riding has always been a hobby, not a profession, on horses bought for him to ride by his father. Noble Yeats, who was acquired from his previous owners in mid-February, was a last throw of the dice in the National. He is a horse who looked tailor-made for Aintree but perhaps, as a seven-year-old novice, not until next year.

His jockey, though, could not wait that long and the final ride of his career was typically composed, with Waley-Cohen indistinguishable from the professionals around him.

The punters struggled to find a favorite in the minutes leading up to the race, with last year’s winner, Minella Times, attracting plenty of money along with Snow Leopardess, Longhouse Poet and Fiddlerontheroof. Eventually the market settled on Any Second Now, who set off at 15-2 to sluggish for a desperately unlucky run into third last year.

As Waley-Cohen settled in mid-division behind the early pace and allowed his inexperienced partner to get into a rhythm, the opposition was being whittled away from an early stage.

Noble Yeats ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen (right) engages in a dramatic battle with Mark Walsh aboard Any Second Now. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

The much-fancied Enjoy D’Allen went at the first, while Minella Times was also among the 11 fallers. Snow Leopardess was pulled up before heading out on to the second circuit, and only 15 of the original field of 40 eventually crossed the line.

Despite an initial report that all the runners had safely returned to their stables, there was a sad postscript to the race when it emerged that Paul Nolan’s gelding Discorama, who was pulled up before the 13th fence, had been put down after he was found to have suffered a serious injury.

As the race came to a premature end for one runner after another, Noble Yeats and Waley-Cohen continued to track the lead, where Longhouse Poet was going particularly well for Darragh O’Keeffe after saving every possible inch of ground on the way.

Longhouse Poet was still traveling like a possible winner two out, but like so many horses in the past his stamina was stretched soon afterwards. He dropped away as Any Second Now and Mark Walsh – already the winner of two Grade Ones earlier on the card – made their move.

But Noble Yeats had also tugged his way towards the lead and while there were six horses almost in a line over the last, it was soon a head-to-head between the 50-1 shot and the favourite. Any Second Now had 12lb more to carry in his saddle, however, and Noble Yeats found enough to carve out a narrow lead rounding the Elbow, which he maintained all the way to the line for a two-and-a-quarter length success.

“I didn’t get the start I wanted, he found it happening way too fast,” Waley-Cohen said. “I tried to give him a bit of confidence and find some space. Then we kept picking horses off and I got a great line up the inner and he worked himself into it.

“When I rode him [to finish ninth] at Cheltenham [last month], I couldn’t get him to travel to start with, but then I pulled him out and he really picked up and got me into the race. I said to Emmet [Mullins, his trainer] afterwards, I was really surprised he had that. I was half-hoping he had that up his sleeve [in the closing stages]and he did.”

Sam Waley-Cohen and owner Robert Waley-Cohen after Noble Yeats had triumphed at the Grand National
Jockey Sam Waley-Cohen and owner Robert Waley-Cohen (left) after Noble Yeats had triumphed at the Grand National. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Mullins not only prepared Noble Yeats at the minute but also devised a plan to keep his inexperienced seven-year-old calm in the moments before the race.

“Emmet and I talked quite a lot after Cheltenham,” Waley-Cohen said. “The tunnel out to the course can be a bit of a mind-blower, so we thought we’d get him out early and keep him away from the other horses. Emmet did a lot of thinking around getting him to the start in the way that we wanted him to be.

“He picked up almost too well at the second-last, I would have loved to have done that at the last, but he traveled and he was galloping.

“Then the other horse came to him and that helped him, and from Cheltenham I knew that he kept a little bit up his sleeve. As soon as I asked him to go forward he went forward and I started to think: ‘I think he’s going to keep his head in front here.’”

Robert Waley-Cohen was close to tears as he absorbed the moment in the winner’s enclosure while waiting for his son and their horse to return, and while the win had ensured that the bookmakers also left Aintree in a celebratory mood, the winner’s reception from the 70,000 crowd – the first to greet a National winner for three years – was heartfelt.

“I can’t speak because I’ve shouted too much,” he said. “It’s fantastic, this is what we dreamed about for years.

“Sam used to ride a rocking horse, pretending he was riding Auntie Dot. That’s how far back it goes.

“We’ve won so many great races and had such fun. [There is] joy and sadness that it’s all coming to an end, and the horse is only seven and a novice, so he could be here for a good many years yet, but not with Sam on board.”

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